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Pope Francis Wraps Up U.S. Trip; French Conducting Their First Air Strikes Against ISIS. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired September 27, 2015 - 06:30   ET


[06:30:00] CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Pope Francis wrapping up his first trip to the United States with another packed day in Philadelphia. Just to let you know what's on the agenda today there is a meeting with bishops, a trip to see some prison inmates and have discussions with them, and then there is an outdoor mass where more than a million people are expected. Here's a live picture for you right now, as they prepare for that. Crews setting up the altar as you see it there as we speak. This is supposed to be one of the largest public masses ever and CNN will bring it to you live and it's scheduled to start at 4:00 p.m. today.

Some famous voices singing for the pope last night as he spent the evening with celebrities and families. The pope even telling a few jokes there as we saw his lighter side. You see singer Aretha Franklin there, also Sister Sledge took the stage. And we have complete coverage of the pope's final day here in the U.S. All morning and afternoon, so do stay with us right here on CNN.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: You know, we brought to you the pope's address to the U.N. General Assembly earlier this week, last week. But President Obama, he's got a busy week ahead at the '70 session of the UNGA. He is hosting meetings with world leaders, of course, including a summit on fighting ISIS and violent extremism. Also on his agenda, is this meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Let's go down to CNN senior U.N. correspondent Richard Roth. Richard, as we have said, we have focused a lot on the pope's address, but we also know that this week, top U.S. and Iranian diplomats meeting for the first time since the nuclear deal.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR U.N. CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The pope has left the building, but there is still a large international cavalcade of political stars who will be addressing many major issues. And yesterday, Secretary of State Kerry met with his Iranian counterpart as you mentioned for the first time since the big nuclear deal. Secretary Kerry looking to make inroads on other major issues in the Middle East with the Iranian.


JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We need to achieve peace and a way forward in Syria, in Yemen and the region itself. And I think there are opportunities this week and through these discussions to make some progress.


ROTH: Nevertheless the United States has not invited Iran to that counterterrorism summit, Victor, that you just mentioned. Other issues? Well, today, President Obama will be in the building. It's the third and final day of a development summit and that's what the president will talk about, his major address will be on Monday.

Also, among the speakers on Saturday, Cuba's leader Raul Castro who used the occasion to, once again, jab the United States regarding its embargo.


RAUL CASTRO, PRESIDETN OF CUBA (through translator): The reestablishment of the diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States of America, the opening of embassies and the policy changes announced by President Barack Obama with regards to our country constitute a major progress, which has elicited the broadest support of the international community. However, the economic, commercial, and financial blockade against Cuba persists bringing damages and hardships on the Cuban people and standing as the main obstacle to our country's economic development.



ROTH: There was large applause for the Cuban leader as there always is because the United States is heavily outvoted concerning its own embargo against Cuba inside the General Assembly. One final note, Victor, when you talk about all these issues: France announcing this morning that it, for the first time, has bombed ISIS targets inside Syria. Victor, back to you.

BLACKWELL: All right, Richard Roth for us at the United Nations. Richard, thank you.

PAUL: President Obama's relationship with Vladimir Putin has been particularly dicey since Russia's involvement in Crimea and Ukraine, and the White House says the two leaders will talk about that. And also, about Russia's military backing of Syria and President Bashar al-Assad. I want to bring in Sir Tony Brenton now. He is the former British ambassador to Russia. We appreciate you being here, sir. With your unique perspective, we're getting this interesting tidbit, the White House saying that Mr. Putin requested this meeting. Do you see that as a genuine outreach on his part? Do you think it's for show? What do you make of it?

SIR TONY BRENTON, FORMER BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: First of all, the Russians are saying the meeting is by mutual agreement, so they do not concede that point. But secondly, the mere fact of the meeting is a very big shift by the United States, actually. Mr. Obama, up until a mere few months ago, was talking about isolating Russia and isolating Mr. Putin. The fact that they are now meeting with him suggests that they have some quite serious business to do. It's actually a good time for them to be meeting, because U.S. policy has moved significantly in the Russian direction on the question of Syria, and also things are going moderately well on the question of Ukraine. So while both will no doubt come out saying very tough things about the other, actually, inside the meeting, there is lots of scope for progress.

PAUL: What do you think it would take for Russia to back away from Assad? As we know the U.S. would prefer?

BRENTON: Russia isn't going to back away from Assad. Russia's key concern in the region is to prevent the rise of Islamic fundamentalists. They see the choice in Syria as being between Assad on the one hand, who is very nasty and they know it, and ISIS on the other, which is both nasty and dangerous, from their point of view. They see the so-called third, moderate force, as backed by the west, as a complete delusion, and so they are not going to back away from Assad. What is striking, however, over the last few days is that the U.S. and the U.K. and other countries have acknowledged that they do not expect Assad to go instantly. So as I say, the west is moving in Mr. Putin's direction.

PAUL: Another thing that is interesting this morning, the Iraqi military announcing a new intelligence sharing agreement with Russia, Iran and Syria. In this battle against ISIS, since you brought it up, wouldn't this confirm U.S. suspicions that there was some sort of cooperation between Baghdad and Moscow?

BRENTON: Yes, well, undoubtedly there is. There is a wide range of countries in the region, including Iran, including Iraq, including Saudi Arabia, who loathe and fear ISIS, and who are very keen to cooperate to deal with ISIS. The key obstacle to preventing the west from being a part of that coalition, that activity, has been our insistence that President Assad should go before any serious business could be done. As I say, that insistence is weakening, so I would expect, especially in this weekend, in the U.N., quite a lot of back- stage discussions of strengthening intelligence cooperation and finding ways of cooperating actually to bomb and deal with ISIS. You have seen that Ash Carter last week, the week before, for the first time in a year, spoke to his Russian opposite number, precisely with the intention of so-called deconflicting, i.e. enabling both countries, (inaudible) get in each other's ways, to operate against ISIS.

PAUL: All right, Sir Tony Brenton, so sorry that we've run out of time. Thank you so much for your insight. We appreciate it.

BRENTON: Thank you.

PAUL: Of course.

So a lot of people might be wondering what was Pope Francis like before he took over as head of the Catholic Church? Up next, we are talking to a long-time friend of the pontiff about the man who would become pope.

BLACKWELL: Plus, new air strikes against ISIS as we heard from Richard Roth just a moment ago, as the number of people looking to join the group grows.



BLACKWELL: We got music, dancing, nuns, fireworks last night from the Festival of Families during this trip Pope Francis has made a time for the poor, the forgotten, and the disabled. Just moments after stepping off the plane in Philadelphia, Pope Francis blessed a young man you see here in a wheelchair right behind the barricade. His parents brought him to catch a glimpse of the pontiff, and it's become an iconic moment of this trip thus far. And the pope living up to his nickname, the people's pope here.

For more let's bring in Father Hernan Paredes, a long-time friend of the pontiff starting back when he was Father Bergoglio. Good to have you, Father. And I wonder, you saw him at St. Patrick's. What was that like for you?

FATHER HERNAN PAREDES, FRIEND OF THE POPE: Thank you, Victor. It was a kind of remembering the great man, the great friend that he has been over these last 30 years. I was a young seminarian when I met then Father Jorge Bergoglio, a man who was only 48 years old at that time. Who was the pillar of the Jesuit community and who was the simple man that you see. The man that you see there, the disabled stopped his car, embrace a little kid, a man who is ready to bless a family. The man who enjoys music. It's wonderful that Philadelphia had that festival (ph) last night where music was an important part. (inaudible) as a young priest or a man, he was a man who loved music, especially classical music.

BLACKWELL: There were some amazing performances. I want to jump in here because I want to get to an emotional moment before we run out of time. You said you broke down and cried when you heard the news that he would be the next pope. Tell us about that moment. What did you feel?

PAREDES: I was watching a musical - interestingly enough. I was in Broadway since I am teaching at Loyola school in New York, I was with the juniors. And the moment that I saw Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, I just sat down and cried. And I would say tears of joy. Joy because I knew the man, I knew that he will be the great pope that he is, the man who is concerned about the poor and the disadvantaged, the man who loves the young people. Yesterday, in Philadelphia, another example of his commitment to the future generations was for Pope Francis to go to this. I saw, for me, it was all the memories of my early age, early days as a Jesuit came together.

BLACKWELL: With all of these early memories, can you tell us one thing maybe people do not know about Pope Francis that you do?

PAREDES: Well, I will say that he was -- he liked to play dominos.

BLACKWELL: Dominos? Okay.

PAREDES: Yes. Most of the time, I was playing with him, and sometimes when I play against him, I cheated it myself, not --

BLACKWELL: Okay, all right, Father! Cheating the pope at dominos?

PAREDES: (inaudible) to know that I was doing something (inaudible).


BLACKWELL: Pope Francis, obviously, from the reaction and the reception we have seen in New York and D.C. and Philadelphia. And now we are expecting more than a million people later today, this will be -- has already been a historic visit and will resonate, and we will talk more about the fruit of his visit throughout the show. Father, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

PAREDES: My pleasure to be with you. Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Certainly. Of course, we will have complete coverage of the pope's last day in the United States, including a look at what is ahead for this afternoon's mass at 4:00 p.m. in Philadelphia. More than a million people expected here. Christi?

PAUL: We may now have a new gauge of America's attempts to stop ISIS recruitment, and it is not good. Details on a new report that alleges thousands and thousands of potential terrorists, some Americans, have traveled to Iraq and Syria just in the last 12 months.

Also, former NFL player Michael Sam speaking out about why he believes his sexuality may have hurt his shot at pro football.



PAUL: 51 minutes past the hour right now. Good morning to you.

The war on ISIS inside Syria is expanding this morning. The French, for the first time ever, say they conducted air strikes on the terror group inside Syria earlier this morning. This is coming amid grim news about America's effort to stem the flow of ISIS recruits traveling overseas. The New York Times reporting that 250 Americans have entered or tried to enter Iraq or Syria. That is more than double the number from just a year ago. Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona is joining us now from Portland. Thank you for so much for being with us. First this news about France. How significant do you find that to be?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.): We have been expecting this for sometime. The British and the French have said they were going to conduct reconnaissance flights and possibly strike operations. We thought the French would go first, and they have. The French, capable forces, good to have them in there conducting operations. So I think this is a positive. It expands our capabilities against ISIS. The air campaign has not been having the desired effect, so if the French can get in there and help, that is welcome.

PAUL: When we hear about this report 250 Americans have entered or tried to enter Syria or Iraq, what does that tell you about the vulnerability of America itself to some sort of attack?

FRANCONA: It really ups the ante. ISIS has been trying to do this for some time, attracting westerners to come to Syria to be trained and then be sent back. So I think this just complicates the problem for the FBI and our other law enforcement organizations, because they have got to identify these people, track them when they come back. The problem is the FBI has said it's almost impossible to do that, especially if they don't have any criminal record, so this is going to cause a problem.

PAUL: So you think it's if, not when?

FRANCONA: I think so, and they're not only going to train people and send them back, they are still continuing this campaign to have people stay in place somewhere in the United States to conduct these lone- wolf attacks. So it is relentless, they are going to keep up. And you can see, they are having success, and it almost boggles the mind that people still want to go there to fight.

PAUL: Not only that, but, you know, let's talk about this new Iraqi military announcement about the new intelligence sharing against ISIS with Russia, Iran, and Syria. What do you make of that?

FRANCONA: I think this was inevitable. As the Russians put forces in Syria, they are reacting to what they regard as an American failure. Our effort to get some people there on the ground has just collapsed. The Russians are there in force now, and they are working with their allies, the Syrians, and the Iranians, and they are opening up their doors now to the Iraqis. The Russians actually have more in common than those countries than we do. And they are capitalizing on that. Us, demanding that Assad go, is putting us at odds with our other allies in the area, so I think the Russians are being very, very smart here, and I think they are going to force us into some sort of alliance with everybody else against ISIS, and that de facto makes us a supporter of Assad.

PAUL: Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, what a great perspective today, we appreciate it so much, thank you, sir.

FRANCONA: Good to be with you.

BLACKWELL: And of course, we will continue our complete coverage of the pope's last day in the United States, including a look at what is ahead for this afternoon's mass in Philadelphia. More than a million people are expected to attend. Maybe 1.5 or more.


Plus, his NFL career appeared to have been over as soon as it started. But Michael Sam says he has no regrets about being the first openly gay player to be drafted. We will talk about that next.


BLACKWELL: Former NFL player Michael Sam opens up in a recent interviewing. He says he would probably still be playing in the NFL if he had never told the world that he is gay.

PAUL: Coy Wire is with us here. What is your assessment of this? Is it really his sexual orientation or was he good enough for the game?

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS: Personally, I saw him play in the Senior Bowl, and I just didn't think he had what it took on the field to compete at a high level and be a starter in the NFL. Could he have made a roster? That, I don't know, I'm not sure about that. He disclosed his sexual orientation before the 2014 draft. The St. Louis Rams drafted him in the seventh round, making him the NFL's first openly gay player. Then his career took a turn. Sam was waved by the Rams at the end of the pre-season, then the Cowboys picked him up for their practice squad. He was cut again. He then tried to come out for the Veteran Combine to see if any teams would take him there, denied again. Since then, he has been in the Canadian Football League before ultimately deciding to return to school for a master's degree. When he spoke to Dan Patrick, Michael Sam said that while he doesn't have regrets, he thinks things would be different had he not come out. He said, quote, "it would probably have been better for me if I didn't come out. I would be on a roster. But as I said, I have no regrets whatsoever."

So we want to know what you think. Did disclosing his sexual orientation derail his NFL career? Here is where you make the show, tweet us your response using hashtag newdaycnn, and post on our NEW DAY Facebook